Steelworkers from far and wide are setting the stage for a battle when it comes to a new contract and Local 2251 & Local 2724 find themselves in a very similar situation with members from Hamilton’s US steel Canada local union.
Union executive from USW local 1005 representing workers at US Steel Canada in Hamilton Ontario showed their support holding a press conference Monday morning to outline the current situation at Essar Steel Algoma and U.S. Steel.
“In Hamilton there doesn’t appear to be any interest for U.S. Steel to remain the owner while up here it’s something different” Gary Howe President USW Local 1005 told SaultOnline.com, The Hamilton union says the CCAA process is legalized theft and the workers there have proof of that. “one of the big issues is the company unilaterally took away benefits for the retirees while the company is paying millions of dollars a month on lawyers and accountants, it’s a wash for the retirees and the company can afford to pay those benefits”
US steel Canada remains under CCAA protection.
DaPrat says management at Essar Steel Algoma caused its current situation and now want the workers to pay for it. He says the company wants to pull back wages and benefits to 2001 levels and also
“the message today is our friends from Hamilton, local 1005 came up to show their support for our upcoming strike vote because they are experiencing the exact same situation that we are” said USW Local 2251 President Mike DaPrat.
“We were first into negotiations with the bidders under CCAA , somebody decided that they needed a hammer and the employer put us on notice to bargain with a view of getting a no board report and imposing terms, out of the blue we were told there was a mediator, we will not participate in any talks with the mediator” Da Prat said.
DaPrat asked the appointed mediator, Warren Winkler for a decision in writing or from the judge if the union went into negotiations , it would not be under the labour relations act – Winkler refused to do so. “What takes place is, we negotiate with the employer and we resolve some issues, then we end up going with a bidder and they take those issues and ask for more and then if they don’t like what’s happening they put us back into the labour relations act, it’s totally departmental to the members” DaPrat added. “enough is enough , either we are under the CCAA process , where no party gets leverage or we’re under the Labour relations act where we can be put on notice, terms can be imposed we could get locked out or we could get a strike”
The union goes into contract talks with the company on March 7th, 8th and 9th. Members vote tomorrow on a strike mandate for the executive and DaPrat is confident the local will have that as a bargaining chip. The conciliator has reported that the dates will be the final dates for negations. “When did the world turn upside down? when the company can make irresponsible threats? ”
Both unions agree that the entire CCAA process favours the company and the not the pensioners or workers. Even if a deal is made with Essar Steel Algoma, when a new buyer is found the new owner may seek even more concessions. DaPrat acknowledges that but adds “our position is, that’s the deal and that’s the deal we’re going to insists on”
“we are looking for a fair agreement, can I tell you specifically what that is, no. We have a number of proposals that we have submitted but DaPrat is surprised that the company proposals do nothing to improve the viability of the steel plant but instead “irritants that management has” DaPrat claims the company wants changes made to scheduling and a 10 percent cut in pay. DaPrat would not go into specifics on monetary issues but did say “we are not willing to fund bad management decisions by simply taking a ten percent cut”
Last week the two Essar Algoma unions, 2251 and Local 2724 joined forces to negotiate monetary issues together at the bargaining table, a step never taken before by the two unions.